250 years of hateful (in)difference?

In the 250 years that have elapsed between the reformist seat of Pombal and the present day, has the Algarve really overcome the “odious difference”?

Chorographic Charter of the Kingdom of the Algarve, c. 1770-1780?. Available at https://purl.pt/26082

Probably, few will know that the year 2023 is an occasion of historic celebration in the Algarve. Exactly 250 years ago, and starting in January 1773, the so-called Kingdom of the Algarve was the target of a series of economic and political-administrative reforms, which would redefine its history in an absolutely decisive way, leaving marks on the territory that last until to the present day.

After the impetus alluding to the Maritime Expansion (XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries), a time when the Algarve held undeniable geostrategic interest, almost two centuries of economic depression followed and almost total lack of interest and abandonment of the Algarve region by the Portuguese Crown.

In the XNUMXth century and for most of the XNUMXth century, we found a ruralized region, economically depressed and politically forgotten, totally relegated to its peripheral condition in the Kingdom of Portugal.

When, on November 1, 1755, the earth shook violently, in what would become known as the great Lisbon earthquake, the Algarve also suffered inestimable human and material losses that aggravated an already precarious situation. The epicenter off Sagres not only shook the earth, but also hit the region with a devastating tsunami, which hit the western Algarve particularly hard.

It was this catastrophe that, to a large extent, strengthened Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo as the man of strength in the government of D. José, who knew how to take the reins and rebuild the ruined capital.

In the aftermath, and in a pure exercise of reinforcing sovereignty through a broader and more informed recognition of Portuguese territory, the then future Marquis of Pombal sent to the parish priests of all the parishes of the Kingdom, in 1758, a broad questionnaire inquiring about the damage caused by the earthquake, but also on the geography, demography, history and economic and administrative conditions of each of these territories.

The minister was certainly not indifferent to the reports that reached him from parishes in the Algarve, but what really seemed to have captured his interest were the complimentary descriptions that the Count of Lippe would have made of the region, after his visit there in 1764, arriving even the marshal-general of the Portuguese army designated it as a “piece of earthly paradise”.

It then became essential to ascertain the causes of the decline of that “piece of Paradise”, to which Portugal owed its “most glorious discoveries”.

After ordering several diagnostic reports from the Crown agents in the territory, it was quickly perceived that the Kingdom of the Algarve needed a reform plan that would focus on the most diverse sectors and simultaneously fulfill the function of reinforcing the presence, sovereignty and power of the Crown in a largely forgotten and neglected territory for centuries.

This reform plan was called, at the time, “Restoration of the Kingdom of the Algarve”, and, despite some measures having been taken as early as the 1760s, the main and most relevant ones all date from 1773, fulfilling in the present year 2023 the 250 years.

Let's look at these measures, dividing them by area of ​​action:

A) Agriculture and land ownership: by charter of January 16, 1773, the Board was re-instituted for the investigation of censuses and usurious forums in the Kingdom of the Algarve, through which an attempt was made to tackle one of the most serious problems in the region, that is that is, the concentration of land ownership – and, consequently, of almost all wealth – in the hands of a few landlords, who exploited it through illicit census contracts and usurious forums contrary to the law in force.

B) Fisheries: by provision of January 13, 1773, fish rights were reduced to two tithes – including dried and salted fish that could transit within the Kingdom without paying any more taxes or tolls –, and were increased for the double the duties paid for fresh fish exported outside the Kingdom, with the aim of increasing the production and export of dried and salted fish, reducing the export of fresh fish – which was exploited on the east coast of the Algarve, mainly by Spaniards – and also put an end to fish smuggling.
On the 15th of January, the Companhia Geral das Reais Pescarias do Reino do Algarve was formed, the last of the Pombaline monopoly companies, which guaranteed State control and intervention over privileged fish, croaker and tuna, the most lucrative, reserving for the remaining free trade.

C) Commerce: the law of February 4, 1773 put an end to the “odious difference” between the kingdoms of Portugal and the Algarve, ending the customs discrimination that was felt in the region, reflected in a multitude of duties and tolls paid for products who went from there to the rest of the kingdom, as if it were a foreign region.
The objective would therefore be to allow the continuation of a policy of free internal exchange, opening space for other businessmen of Portuguese and Algarve origin to be able to compete with the English businessmen installed in the region.

D) Political-administrative reorganization of the municipal network: the charter of January 16, 1773 raised Lagoa and Monchique to village status, and these two new municipalities began to divide up part of the territory that until then had belonged to the vast and impoverished municipality of Silves.
Simultaneously, the municipality of Vila Nova de Portimão began to incorporate the then extinct village of Alvor and the former was assigned the seat of the new bishopric, in a project that intended to divide the Algarve diocese and which never came to fruition.
On the 17th of December of the same year, the foundation of Vila Real de Santo António was decreed, in the extreme east of the region, which would result in the creation of this new municipality and the extinction of the municipality of Cacela, in 1775. It would only be inaugurated on May 13, 1776.

The scope of the Pombaline economic reforms was almost nil and, in the longer term, the long-awaited economic development of the Kingdom of the Algarve did not materialise.

However, with regard to political and administrative reorganization, the Pombaline reforms produced lasting results, with the creation of three new municipalities – Lagoa, Monchique and Vila Real de Santo António – and the extinction of two – Alvor and Cacela – having contributed decisive way to redesign the Algarve municipal network as we know it today.

If we had to summarize the Pombaline reformist action of precisely 250 years ago, we could very easily say that it then sought to extinguish the “odious difference” between the Kingdom of the Algarve and the Kingdom of Portugal. An odious difference that resulted precisely from the indifference and oblivion to which the region was condemned for two centuries, contributing to its isolation and economic decay and to the development of a society led by a small group of powerful men whose interests it was very difficult to the central power to face.

Furthermore, it should be noted that the effort that was made in that year of 1773 was notable in order to think about the Algarve region as a whole, in a homogeneous way, considering several strategic areas of action and respecting its particular identity through the creation of a project of a unique “Restoration” with very specific contours that could not be reproduced anywhere else in Portuguese territory. A concerted and strategic vision from the center to the periphery that we rarely see happening these days...

After the “restorative” impulse of the Enlightenment, it is fair to ask: what came after the end of the “hateful difference”? In the 250 years that have elapsed between the reformist seat of Pombal and the present day, has the Algarve really overcome the “odious difference”? Or has it continued to be the target of a hateful (in)difference, which is reflected in the way in which, even today, its legitimate claims are successively neglected? A topic to reflect on and debate…


Note: This article intends to open a small series that will mark the 250 years of the main measures of the Pombaline project of “Restoration of the Kingdom of the Algarve”. The next article will address the topic of trade.


Author: Andreia Fidalgo is a historian and writes according to the rules of the previous Spelling Agreement



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